Thursday, 18 July 2013

I am not a doctor

Posted by Jean Adams

My name is Jean and I am not a doctor.

Twelve years ago this week I graduated with an MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery – a medical degree to its friends). Since then I have varyingly described myself as “a medic”, someone who “trained as a doctor”, and most recently a “failed doctor”. They are all true to varying degrees. Only recently have I become truly comfortable with the reality that I am not be a doctor, without the need for qualification or explanation.

I graduated with an MBBS. But I never practiced as a doctor. I didn’t complete the early post-graduate experience you need to become fully registered as a doctor. I was briefly listed on the medical register as a ‘pre-registration’ doctor. But only as long as it was free. After that I voluntarily removed myself from the register. Which, I assure you, is an entirely different thing from being struck off.

Just to confirm...none of these people are me
For a while I kidded myself (but mostly I reassured my friends, family and advisors) that I might go back to medicine. I would indulge myself with research for a short while and complete my PhD. Then I would see the light and realise that the only true and good career path was medicine. I would become a GP or a psychiatrist. Maybe I would do a little research on the side. It was going to be fine. I was not going to be a failure.

Despite not wanting to be paid to practice medicine, for a long time I clung on to the medic label. To begin with I think this was mostly because I wanted something to show for my six years at medical school. All my friends were junior doctors. I was...still a student. I needed something to suggest that I might be a worthwhile person. For the three years that I worked towards becoming one sort of Dr Adams, I clung to the other sort of Dr Adams as some sort of confirmation that, despite appearances, I was definitely a fully fledged adult, and not ‘just’ a student.

After my mother died, my father told me that the most important thing for her, as a psychiatrist, was her dual qualification as a general physician as well as a psychiatrist. This was, he said, what gave her legitimacy during her (endless) negotiations with the rest of the hospital – no-one was ever going to listen to a shrink whine about being under-staffed, but they might listen to a ‘proper’ doctor who was playing at being a shrink for a while.

Even after I became Dr Dr Adams I didn’t quite trust that one Dr was up to the other Dr. Yeah, I had a PhD, but I was also a ‘proper’ doctor. Just like my dad said, I thought that it gave me some legitimacy with the men in suits from the rest of the medical school.

Now it all seems a bit of a joke. I can barely remember how to examine a chest, let alone suggest a differential diagnosis and management plan for your intermittent breathlessness. There was a time when I considered watching ‘ER’ to be half way between doing nothing and revising for finals. These days I struggle to work out what all the acronyms stand for.

But however much I disliked medical school as a phenomenon, I am still grateful that I went. It is a fine training in life. I’m sure I’ve forgotten more than half of what I learnt. But you don’t forget the time you held a stranger’s hand as they delivered their first baby, the hour you spent with a floridly psychotic young man trying to decipher his world, the women dignifiedly dying of malignant melanoma who still dressed like she was just about to go out for a run, or being taught how to certify someone (very newly dead) as dead.

I have finally arrived at a place where I am confident enough with the career and identify I have, that I don’t need to cling to one that isn’t really mine.

I am not a doctor.

With thanks to Lynne Stobbart, whose post on always being a nurse helped me realise that I was never going to be a doctor.

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